Migration motor behind EU population growth

According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, population growth in the EU is mainly the result of foreign migration and, to a lesser extent, of natural growth.

Net migration in 2005 for the EU as a whole was estimated by Eurostat at 1.69 million. Natural population growth, defined as births minus deaths, was 327 thousand in 2005. Thus, total population growth in 2005 in the EU amounted to approximately 2.02 million. Altogether, 462 million people were living in the EU on 1 January 2006. The population in the EU exceeds the total number of people living in the United States plus the Russian Federation (438 million), but is easily outnumbered by the populations of China (1.3 billion) and India (over 1.0 billion). Approximately 38 percent of the world’s population are living in these two countries.

Population growth EU-15

Population growth EU-15

EU-15: growth due to migration

Population developments in the 15 countries constituting the European Union until 1 May 2004 (EU-15) are quite different from those in the new EU member states. Since the late 1980s, the population increase in the EU-15 is mainly the result of foreign migration. In the early 1990s, the net migration increase was mainly caused by the massive arrival of refugees.

Around the turn of the century, when economy was booming, net migration in the EU-15 rose sharply, but after 2001, when the EU economy began to slump, the increase continued for a while. This was partly the effect of legalisation of former illegal aliens and the ensuing revision of population figures.

The Netherlands: emigrants outnumber immigrants

Recent population developments in the Netherlands vary widely from those recorded in most other countries of the EU-15. In 2000 and 2001, more than 130 thousand immigrants entered the Netherlands; in 2002, the number of immigrants was down to 120 thousand and the decline has continued ever since. In 2005, an estimated 94 thousand immigrants came to settle in the Netherlands, the lowest number since 1988.

Population growth in the Netherlands

Population growth in the Netherlands

In this period emigration was rising dramatically and this caused net migration to plummet. Net migration shifted from positive (over 50 thousand) in 2000 and 2001 to negative (27 thousand) in 2005. As a result of negative net migration and a declining birth rate, population growth in the Netherlands fell dramatically to just 30 thousand in 2005, the lowest number since 1900. The Dutch growth rate per 1,000 in the population was the lowest (excluding Germany) in the EU-15.

Growth rate per 1,000 in the population

Growth rate per 1,000 in the population

New member states: declining populations

The role of migration in population developments is far less prominent in the ten new EU member states than in the former EU-15. In the new member states, particularly those in Eastern Europe, the growth of the population is largely determined by births and deaths.

Expected growth until 2025

Eurostat expects the population in the EU to increase in the long run and reach 470 million in 2025. This increase will be entirely due to foreign migration (positive net migration 15 million in 2025). Until 2025, deaths will outnumber births by 5 million. Eurostat anticipates a reduction of the EU population after 2025 to 450 million in 2050. Statistics Netherlands expects a sustained population increase to 17.1 million in 2035. Natural growth will account for two-thirds; subsequently, the population of the Netherlands will fall back to 16.9 million in 2050.

Han Nicolaas and Arno Sprangers